To those who are going through a battle,
When I was 30 years old, I visited my father, who wasn’t a big part of my life, at a chapel in downtown Tulsa. It is a place that sometimes houses people who are down on their luck.
Sitting in the chapel on a church pew, my father said to me, “I don’t know how you made it to this point in your life because I didn’t do a whole lot to contribute to your success. It’s truly amazing and I’m proud of you.”
That moment was a turning point in my life.
My journey so far has not been easy. Like you, I have had to battle through tough circumstances. During my childhood, I experienced a lot of turmoil. With my dad often not around, my mother shouldered much of the load. She worked odd hours, so my grandparents helped raise me.
Every single day, I sat with my grandparents, watching the news on their floor model television. The news sparked interesting conversations. And my grandparents held the people who delivered the news in such high regard. From the time I was a young boy, I wanted to be a newscaster, specifically a sports anchor.
However, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Growing up in Tulsa, I lived down the road from Black Wall Street. Once filled with thriving Black-owned businesses, in 1921, racial violence destroyed Black Wall Street. The businesses were all ruined and even worse, an estimated 75-300 lives were lost.
While my grandparents were not around for the 1921 massacre, they did feel the embers of those flames. They shared their experiences with me and did not sugarcoat anything. My grandparents made sure I knew my history and what it meant to be Black in America. At a young age, they made it clear that I would have to work harder than other people and often, my efforts would be overlooked simply because of my skin color.
However, my grandparents also constantly told me that I was smart, capable and a fighter. They told me that I could do anything and never to let anyone convince me otherwise. Luckily, I had the nerve to believe them.
When the time came, I enrolled in college and walked onto the football team. During my freshman year, my oldest daughter was born. Shortly after, my life took a turn that no one saw coming. I noticed a lump on the left side of my neck. Thinking it would go away, I ignored it. One weekend I was at church with my mom and she saw the lump. She started poking at it and told me I needed to see a doctor. While I resisted, she didn’t give me a choice.
They did a biopsy and discovered I had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. No clue what it meant to be diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I kept interrupting the doctor, making it difficult for him to explain.
Finally, he said, “Frank, you have cancer.”
When I heard those words, it felt like the weight of the world fell on my shoulders. As the doctor started talking about a treatment plan, his voice became faint, almost like ambient sound. I was in a state of shock and denial. My daughter, who wasn’t even one at the time, quickly became my motivation to fight.
While my mother wanted me to drop out of college and come home until the treatment was over, I knew if I did I likely would not return to school. So, I continued taking a full load of classes and working a part-time job. I worked 15-20 hours a week at a call center to support myself and my daughter.
Every single day, I searched for strength from within. I felt sick. I was tired. Nauseous all the time, I couldn’t even look at food. I ended up losing nearly 45 lbs. It felt like my body was betraying me. The semester before I was running routes. Suddenly, I couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without feeling like I was running a marathon.
At 19, I looked death in its face, which made me bolder and more determined than ever to realize my dreams. See, cancer has a way of reminding you that you’re not going to be here forever, so if there is something you want in life, you need to grab the bull by the horns and go after it.
I don’t even know how many chemo treatments I received. And while I remember ringing the bell when it was all over, I didn’t understand the significance of it.
It took me several years to say, “I beat cancer.”
I feared that if I spoke the word “cancer,” I would invite it back into my life.
So, I graduated college and focused on my dream while trying to leave cancer in my past. I wanted to close the door, lock it and board up that part of my life. It was so painful. My mind needed time to heal.
While I initially wanted to be a sports anchor, I ended up with an opportunity in news and ran with it. The job was in Lawton, Oklahoma. The first month, I worked as a video editor. In month two, I became a photographer. By month three, the station offered me the chance to go on air as a reporter. Covered from my neck to my ankle in threads that I bought from Goodwill, I was so nervous the first time I went on air. I am not even sure if I said my name correctly.
After three months in Lawton, I got a full-time job as a reporter in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After that, I worked as a news anchor in Tulsa, St Louis, Atlanta and Cleveland. Now, I am the morning anchor for Brightside on 10 Tampa Bay, a great station in one of the largest news markets in the country.
However, it certainly has not been easy. Like my grandparents warned me, there are many roadblocks as a Black man in a predominantly white industry. I had one news director say he had never seen any talented Black male anchors at any level.
Following the death of George Floyd, past co-workers reached out to me to apologize for their involvement in conversations that led to unfair treatment towards me. They felt terrible, years after the fact, that they didn’t speak up. I didn’t even know what situation they were referencing, but I am sure there were many times where unbeknownst to me, my race impacted my career.
Even so, I have battled obstacles throughout my career, the same way I beat cancer – by focusing on what I can control. Early on, my biggest struggle was not internalizing other people’s perceptions of me.
Ultimately, I found people in the business who looked like me – African-Americans who carved out careers for themselves. They shared their horror stories and reminded me that I wasn’t alone. Every day, I continued to hone my craft, do my job to the best of my ability and capitalize on my opportunities.
While I once wanted to forget about my cancer completely, now, on my most challenging days, professionally or personally, I draw from the experience. The scars on my body and in my memory remind me that no matter how much struggle I have endured, I have always come out on the other side. I have always come out on top.
Right now, you are in the middle of your battle – maybe it’s your health, perhaps it’s a problem at work or it could be a troubled home life. Whatever it is, please know that your goals and your dreams are there for a reason. They are there because you do have the ability to accomplish them, regardless of the battles you face.
While I don’t feel like I have made it in life because that would mean there is nothing left for me to do, I believe that I am making it.
I have a beautiful wife, three amazing children and I continue to pursue my childhood dream while also developing new visions for my future. My biggest accomplishment is not an award I won or a job I landed, but rather the person I have been able to become.
On the day my dad sat with me in that church in Tulsa, he shared with me that he was pursuing a career as a television broadcaster before he dropped out of college. I never knew that. I never knew that my father and I shared the same dream – a dream that only I got to live.
When I think back to that conversation with my father, it overwhelms me with emotion. It was such a pivotal moment in my life. But it’s not necessarily because I love my father and I finally realized that my father was proud of me. More importantly, it’s because that conversation gave me the pause and perspective I needed to learn to be proud of myself.
Most battles aren’t easy, but they are certainly worth it.